School choice legislation that would expand eligibility for the country’s largest tax credit scholarship program and create new personal learning accounts for special needs students is ready for a final vote in the Florida House.
Lawmakers on Wednesday removed a $30 million increase on the caps that limit the growth of the tax-credit scholarship program, though the state’s current law would still allow the program to grow by as much as 25 percent a year.
The change did little to tamp opposition among House Democrats.
They proposed a series of contentious changes during nearly two hours of floor discussion on Wednesday, including a proposed requirement that schools participating in the tax credit scholarship program administer state’s standardized tests. The Democrats’ amendments were defeated, largely along party lines.
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, broke with his fellow Republicans to vote in favor of the testing requirement, which also would have required schools with scholarship students to participate in the state’s A-F grading system for schools. His father, Don Gaetz, is the Senate President, and has called for requiring state assessments for scholarship students, an idea that remains controversial among some school choice supporters.
The House voted down other Democratic proposals, which among other things would have required private schools with scholarship students to hire state-certified teachers, mandated that they teach the state’s education standards and restricted the way scholarship funding organizations that administer the program can use their revenue. Step Up for Students, which co-hosts this blog, is a scholarship funding organization.
Requiring state standards in private schools “would ensure private schools are going to be accepting public money, that they do something similar to the public schools and reach the same standards that we have for those schools,” said Rep. Richard Stark, D-Weston.
Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, said parents chose private schools for a host of reasons, including the kind of learning environment they offer.
While the full House could approve the school choice bill as early as Friday, the Senate has so far taken a different approach to school choice legislation after withdrawing its original tax credit scholarship bill from consideration earlier in the session.
Florida is one of seven states where lawmakers this year have considered creating education savings accounts for special-needs students, and competing proposals have gained traction in both chambers.
“It allows incredibly more flexibility to the parents’ use for specific services that they know their child needs,” he said.